While at dinner with some friends a few months ago, I was talking sports with their 11-year-old son and told him that my favorite sport was NASCAR. Then I endured mockery from a kid who is less than a third my age while he listed all the reasons that NASCAR was stupid. One of his biggest complaints: “How hard can it be to turn left?”
While funny, the kid was wrong. (Somehow I got over it. Maybe it has something to do with our age difference and that later he went into great detail about why basketball is the superior sport — which happens to be one of my least favorite professional sports).
I like NASCAR. Truth be told, I love all motorsports (stock cars, formula racing, rally, etc. — both professional and amateur) but obviously I can’t follow every single motorsport so with my limited sport-watching time, I’ve chosen to pay attention to NASCAR.
My love of motorsports actually started when I was a kid. There was a racetrack near my house, and it enjoyed some international prominence as the home of several races, and was part of the Indy car circuit. Every weekend, I’d see people pouring into the track to watch a race. I’d hear the roar of the engines. And at the age of 13, I got a job there on the weekends. The days were hard (I was sunburned every day I worked) and the job wasn’t great (my job was to pick up garbage) but I got to see races for free and that’s where it all started. I watched a number of races of different types of cars and loved every race.
(Funny aside: During one race, I was asked to run an errand by the owner the track. He needed a box of supplies from the main building. Instead of running across the bridge over the track, I jumped onto the track and got the box and carried it back… in the middle of the race. I’m not sure how I kept my job after that.)
My focus shifted a bit as I got older, and most of my friends were into other sports or other activities, so I didn’t follow motorsports very much in my late teen years, but I would watch a race any chance I could. Then shortly after college, good friends of mine were NASCAR fans and watched races regularly and I was drawn back in. I was married at that point and my wife joined in as well.
Fifteen years later, Janelle and I are still avid fans, watching two NASCAR races every week — the Sprint Cup (which is the biggest of the NASCAR brand) and the Canadian NASCAR race (which is the Canadian version, obviously). We also connect online for practice results, qualifying times, and news, and we’re ready by race day.
So what do I love about NASCAR?
It’s a motorsport. I like that. A lot. I love the roar of engines and the checkered flag. (And yes, it’s a sport, in spite of many people’s adamant claim that it isn’t).
I also like that it is a great balance between being a team sport and a single star sport. The drivers are the stars (and the lightning rods when things go wrong) but there is a big team of people — in the pits, in the garage, and more — who help the driver and the car go forward.
I like the strategy. People who aren’t familiar with the sport don’t understand the strategy. But there is a lot of it — from the way the car is built to the way the car is driven to what happens in the pits. Every driver is different. Every track is different. Weather conditions are a factor. I like that strategies are forced to change through the race as conditions change. And although the races are 400 or 500 miles long over a stretch of a couple of hours, it’s really a game of inches and milliseconds. A two second delay in the pits can cost someone the race.
The wrecks and flaring tempers add some color to the sport, too, so I don’t mind those. NASCAR is rock’n’roll. I prefer the hard, chippy racing of short tracks.
And I’m of course interested in the business side of NASCAR — it’s a branding-heavy sport and the cars are basically rolling billboards. It’s interesting to watch how different drivers tie in their brand. Some do it so much better than others.
I like the history of the sport, as well. NASCAR’s roots as stock car racing is very cool and I wish we could get back to more of that.
I also love the atmosphere of a race — beer and hotdogs and tailgates. Yes, I watch races from the comfort of my couch but it still feels like it a bit. (And yes, I realize that makes me sound a little “red-necky” and a little lazy. I can live with that.).
And the best part of NASCAR, though, is sitting next to my wife as we cheer on our favorite drivers. Time well spent.
(Image credit: Wikipedia)